A Virginia tribe claims that historical records of them were erased due to bigotry. They’re still battling for respect almost a century later.

As a professional eel pot maker for the Patawomeck Indian Tribe, Brad Hatch takes great pleasure in his craft. Hatch is assisting in the preservation of a craft that has been passed down through the years as he works to weave split white wood into baskets used to trap the slick critters. According to Hatch, “Eel pots symbolize the profound historical connection that we have with the waterways of our homeland and with the land.” It serves as a symbol of our culture and community and the ways in which we have persevered, succeeded, and survived over time.

 

For nearly ten years, the Patawomeck Indian Tribe has been challenging the US government for federal recognition. According to Hatch, the tribe’s cultural customs, such as the creation of eel pots, depend on the classification. Hatch claimed that although the tribe was granted recognition by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2010, federal recognition would grant them control over their ancestral lands and grant them access to additional resources made available to federally recognized tribes by the government. However, the tribe has faced several obstacles in its quest for recognition, including a racist state statute that dates back almost a century and is currently impeding efforts to achieve federal recognition requirements. Experts claim that this law virtually eliminated many of Virginia’s Native Americans from historical records.

 

Where two of their original villages previously stood, buildings now dot the terrain, but most of the tribe’s members, according to Hatch, still reside along the Potomac Creek within ten miles of the village sites. According to Hatch, the tribe would be able to maintain other customs like sewing and their ancient language, Algonquin, if they were granted federal recognition. He continued, “The recognition would also give their ancestors’ remains the respect they deserve and vital access to funding that is sorely needed in the community.” The possibility of grant financing for services like housing, education, and health care—things that we may not always have the same access to or have not had in the past—that might significantly strengthen our community is made possible by federal designation.

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